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Rest Stops for a Rushed People
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while,” Jesus counseled his disciples when they returned from their first mission trip (Mk 6:31). The disciples were full of excitement, reporting all the wonderful things they had done. Jesus’ advice: Calm down, get away from the crowds, rest, be quiet for a while.
In these weeks before Christmas, Jesus’ advice is especially fitting. Life is hectic. We are overloaded, frantic to get everything done before Christmas. Advent is the Lord’s call to us to “come away by yourself and rest a while.”
Advent is a time for waiting, a time for quiet contemplation, a time to sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” instead of Christmas carols. We wait, not for presents on Christmas Day or even family get-togethers, but for Jesus. We remember Israel’s wait for Jesus’ birth into the world. We wait as individuals for Jesus’ coming into our hearts. We wait for his coming at the end of time. We wait.
So, during this potentially busy time of year, let us take time each day to do what Jesus suggested: “Come away” from it all—just you and God—and rest for a while. The following meditations, based on the Scripture readings for each day of Advent, will help calm your soul and direct your mind to what is truly important.
First Week of Advent
The coming Kingdom
This week’s readings are about the promised Kingdom. Jesus’ coming in his Incarnation was the “first installment” of the Kingdom. The ultimate fulfillment of these prophecies will happen when Jesus returns at the end of time to set up his kingship over all creation. This is what we wait for all our lives here on earth. This week, during your quiet time, think about Isaiah’s graphic descriptions of the Kingdom, and imagine seeing all of it with your own eyes.
(Is 2:1-5; Mt 8:5-11)
All are welcome
Although Jesus’ coming as Messiah was first to the nation of Israel, he is given for all of us, all nations, all people. Death, war and violence will not exist in the Kingdom. What will it be like to live in a world with no wars, where everyone gets along?
(Is 11:1-10; Lk 10:21-24) Redeemed nature
In the coming Kingdom, even nature is to be redeemed. The animals will not fight or bite or eat one another. “The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” What will it be like when even the animals are at peace?
(Is 25:6-10a; Mt 15:29-37) The feast of God
Isaiah describes a great feast that will take place when Jesus returns. Jesus gave people a preview of that feast when he fed the four thousand. Feeding people is a sign of love and care.
What are your favorite dishes? What “rich foods and wines” speak of celebration to you?
(Is 26:1-6; Mt 7:21, 24-27) Building on the rock
We members of the Kingdom build our lives on the rock of Christ instead of the “sands” of the world’s values. Thus, we are able to withstand trouble and tragedy. In what ways has Jesus, the Rock, steadied you through the storms of life?
(Is 29:17-24; Mt 9:27-31)
The most important miracle
In the Kingdom, all will come to know God’s wisdom. Even those who “err in spirit” and “grumble” will accept God’s teaching, Isaiah says. Anyone who has been a parent or a teacher will appreciate what a miracle that will be! In your life, how has God taught you true wisdom?
(Is 30:19-21, 23-26; Mt 9:35—10:1, 5a, 6-8)
Isaiah writes, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Each of us has the ability to hear God’s word and receive his guidance when we are quiet enough to listen. How is God “speaking” to you today?
Second Week of Advent
John the Baptist’s warning
John the Baptist was the Messiah’s precursor, the one who announced the nearness of the Kingdom of God to Israel and the world. John announced Jesus’ coming in the first century. He also warns Christians today that the Kingdom is near. We must get ready, he exhorts us. Time is getting short. We need to wake up, repent and “bear good fruit.” This week, think about John’s warning and how it might apply to the specifics of your day-to-day life.
(Is 35:1-10; Lk 5:17-26)
The healing of our spirits
The Kingdom of God means restoration: The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap. True healing begins internally, with the healing of the spirit. In what ways has Jesus healed your inner soul so that your outer life has been less “paralyzed”?
(Is 40:1-11; Mt 18:12-14)
Comfort, O comfort my people
The Good Shepherd is concerned about each and every one of us and does not allow any to be lost without searching for and finding us. When were you lost and God came in search of you and brought you back?
(Is 40:25-31; Mt 11:28-30) Weary and burdened?
Are you weary and carrying heavy burdens, especially at this time of year? How can you take Jesus’ “yoke” and find rest? Our duties and problems become “light and easy” as Jesus helps us carry the load.
(Is 41:13-20; Mt 11:11-15) Pools of water in the wilderness
Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Kingdom promises flowing waters in the dry desert, enough for everyone to drink. Picture the Holy Land or any desert today, and see Isaiah’s beautiful prophecy coming true. Rivers flow, fountains spout, trees grow. In what ways are you “thirsty and dry” today? Ask Jesus to give you his “living water” to satisfy your thirst.
(Is 48:17-19; Mt 11:16-19) We are being watched!
John the Baptist was criticized for being too ascetic; Jesus for not being austere enough. We members of the Kingdom are being watched by those who have not yet come to faith. How do we convince others that the Kingdom is real? By loving them as Jesus has loved us.
(Sir 48:1-4, 9-11; Mt 17:9a, 10-13) Who is Jesus’ Elijah?
John the Baptist was the “Elijah” who was to be the Messiah’s herald. We can fulfill the role of Elijah today by showing Jesus to those around us. We are the “salt” that makes people thirsty for Jesus. We show God’s light to those in darkness. Ask God to show you some concrete ways you can “be Elijah.”
Third Week of Advent
The messianic age is here!
Today is “joy” Sunday; we light the pink candle in the Advent wreath; we sing songs of joy. Not only is Christmas near, the Kingdom is also near to us. In fact, it has arrived with Jesus’ Incarnation and continues to grow within each of us. Sometimes we do not see the Kingdom so clearly, but it is here nevertheless. This week, remember that Jesus has won the victory; we have nothing to fear.
(Num 24:2-7, 15-17a; Mt 21:23-27)
The Kingdom will triumph
In the Gospel, Jesus’ authority is questioned. Until its fulfillment at the end of time, the Kingdom of God will be challenged. Like Jesus, we will have times of trouble and opposition. How do you feel challenged to live your values in today’s world?
(Zep 3:1-2, 9-13; Mt 21:28-32)
God waits patiently
Like the second son in today’s Gospel, we may be reluctant and even resentful about obedience at times. But God waits, knowing that we just need a little time. Is there anything you know you should be doing, but you have been putting it off? Maybe it’s time to say “yes” to God.
(Is 45:6c-8, 18, 21c-25; Lk 7:18b-23)
What have you seen?
John the Baptist, languishing in prison and awaiting death, began to have doubts about Jesus. We, too, have our doubts at times. If we recall the wonderful things God has done in our lives, the gloom lifts and faith returns. Today, make a list of the miracles God has performed in your life.
(Is 54:1-10; Lk 7:24-30) “Your maker is your husband”
Isaiah’s song of joy sums up the whole history of humankind. No matter what troubles or disappointments we have endured, God loves us. His loving covenant will never be undone. Read this song of joy several times today and think about how it applies to your life.
(Is 56:1-3, 6-8; Jn 5:33-36)
God’s covenant is for all of us
There are no outsiders in the Kingdom of heaven. All are welcome. God accepts those whom the world rejects and gathers the “outcasts” into his family. Have you ever felt that you were an outsider? You are God’s, therefore a citizen of the Kingdom.
Saturday is always December 17 or later, “late Advent.” Please see below.
Fourth Week of Advent
The Messiah’s coming
During these last days before Christmas, the Church reminds us that Jesus’ coming is the fulfillment of God’s promises, not only to Israel but to the whole human race as well. We have heard these stories so many times that we may not appreciate how miraculous they are. This week, as you meditate on the Scripture readings, remember that all human history changed with these events, but outwardly nothing seemed to change. Joseph and Mary got married; Joseph continued to work in his carpentry shop; Mary kept house. We, too, have our ordinary day-to-day tasks to perform. But let us not miss the miracle of Jesus’ coming or all the miracles going on around us every day.
(Gn 49:2, 8-10; Mt 1:1-17) Jesus’ family tree
Jesus’ family tree may not seem interesting except to historians, but it is miraculous. Jesus’ ancestors included Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and King David. Jacob knew, almost 1,800 years before, that the Messiah would descend from his family. Think today about God’s careful planning, over centuries, for Jesus’ arrival in our world.
(Jer 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-25)
In today’s Gospel, Joseph is told in a dream that the baby Mary is carrying is the Messiah. His doubts and fears are dissolved in newfound faith. Have you ever been told something so incredible that you were unable to believe at first? How did you come to believe it?
(Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a; Lk 1:5-25)
Samson and John the Baptist
The parallels between Samson’s and John the Baptist’s births are astonishing: Both mothers were infertile; both births were announced by angels; both were dedicated to God from the moment of conception. Samson would help deliver Israel from its enemies; John would prepare the way for the Messiah. Have you ever seen “coincidences” that were obvious interventions of God?
(Is 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38) “Ask for a sign”
“The virgin will be with child,” King Ahaz is told 700 years before the angel, Gabriel, visits Mary and announces that she will be the virgin who will bear the Messiah. Again, we see God’s careful planning down through the centuries. What do you see happening today that is a sign of God’s love for his people?
(Sg 2:8-14; Lk 1:39-45)
“The voice of my beloved”
Such joy in today’s readings! The bride of the Song of Songs praises the bridegroom, her beloved. In the Gospel, Mary’s arrival at Elizabeth’s home causes John to leap in Elizabeth’s womb, and both women praise God for his goodness. Have you ever been so overcome with joy that you could hardly contain yourself?
(1 Sm 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56) Mary’s song of praise
Mary’s Magnificat praises God, especially for his care for the humble and downtrodden. The sign of the Messiah’s coming is the restoration of justice on the earth: The poor and lowly are lifted up, and the hungry are fed. God keeps his promises and shows mercy to all people. Read Mary’s song, and think about how it applies to your life.
(Mal 3:1-4, 23-24; Lk 1:57-66)
John the Baptist’s birth
The Church never speaks about Jesus’ birth without also mentioning his precursor, John the Baptist, who prepared Israel for his coming. John’s birth was so miraculous that the whole village wanted to know, “What will this child become?” John is present even today, pointing to Jesus as our long-awaited Messiah, reminding us that Jesus is coming soon.
(Is 9:1-6; 2 Tm 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14)
Of shepherds and angels
Jesus’ birth was attended by the highest and the lowest, by angels and shepherds. While the world slept unaware, our salvation came to us. God became a human being. All heaven knew, and the angels sang praises to God. But the only ones on earth who were aware that night were Jesus’ poor parents, shivering in a shelter for animals, and the lowly shepherds watching their sheep.
(Is 52:7-10; Jn 1:1-18)
“We have seen his glory…”
Jesus has arrived; the Incarnation—God becoming one of us—has happened. Nothing any human being has ever accomplished comes close to this miracle. Nothing in human history will ever be the same now that God, the Word, the only Son, has become one of us. “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
Susan K. Rowland is a freelance writer, columnist and speaker. She is the author of the award-winning book, Make Room for God: Clearing Out The Clutter (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2007). She gives speeches, retreats and workshops on culture, clutter, spirituality and simplicity.
Next: Jesus the Jew
(by Fr. J. Patrick Mullen)